England bowed out of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil after a short stay of just eight days and two games. Costa Rica’s shock 1-0 win over Italy, meant a top two spot was unassailable for the Three Lions who have already suffered defeats to Uruguay and Italy themselves, both 2-1.
Despite the rawness and sadness felt by England fans tonight, the team didn’t disgrace themselves in either of the defeats that ultimately cost them a place at this year’s tournament. Against Uruguay, England enjoyed twice as much possession and three times as many shots on target but still suffered due to a lack of ruthlessness. The story was similar in the first match where England out shot Italy but were still undone by an inferior conversion rate of 5.6% compared to Italy’s 15.4%. England’s performances are synonymous with my club, Leicester City’s at the start of the 2012-13 season – statistically doing things right but lacking the experience to grind out the results. It took City until the season after for them to gain that cutting edge and winning know-how, romping to the Championship title in 2014. Unfortunately, the World Cup doesn’t afford that length of time to grow in to the competition. In fact, despite our failures in this tournament, England’s attacking is the most exciting it has been in years with the likes of Sturridge, Sterling and Welbeck attacking with pace and intent. England’s youthful approach however does mean the squad lacks experience.
Not only was England’s incapacity to convert the chances they created the reason for their early exit, their leaky defence was also to blame. In England only faced six shots on target in their opening two games but managed to concede four or 75%. Roy Hodgson has arguably done himself no favours by leaving perhaps England’s two best defenders in John Terry and Ashley Cole not only out of the starting XI but out of the 23-man-squad altogether. However, Hodgson was too encouraged and initially applauded for championing England’s youth stars but is now facing a ferocious backlash for failing to deliver with them.
England have also faced criticism for lacking passion in recent years. You often hear fans bemoan the lack of gusto with which the national anthem is sung, if it is at all. The England sides of recent years have largely been viewed as overpaid, primadonna disappointments – and perhaps with good reason. In reality, the football fans on these shores are too less passionate about the international game. In fact, a Sky Sports poll in 2010 found that 74% of fans would favour success for their club to success for their country – a trend you’d be hard to come by outside the British Isles. Perhaps the fact that England boasts the best league system in the world detracts from our international efforts. Many will place blame at players like Rooney for not replicating their club performances (maybe not this season’s) for country. Have you ever seen Luis Suarez as passionate for Liverpool as he was for Uruguay last night?
Clearly something has to be done for England to correct their international misfortunes. Similar nations such as France and Germany have looked impressive in this World Cup as they have consistently over the past decade while the Three Lions haven’t. The answer isn’t the introduction of ‘B teams’ in to the English league system; Spain took seventy years to win a major tournament after the introduction of reserve sides, is Dyke lining up success for the 2086 World Cup held on the rings of Saturn? Spain certainly didn’t tear up any trees this campaign and Germany are trying to move away from ‘B teams’ to stop them tainting their domestic divisions. Punishing the lower league clubs won’t benefit anyone in international football, it will only serve the behemoth Premier League that is already taking so much from England’s international chances. All the talk of a Winter break must be intriguing for the FA. There is evidence the break can improve the fitness of players heading in to major tournaments. Portugal are the only other European country not to enforce a break and it doesn’t seem to affect them – though admittedly many of their squad play league football in neighbouring Spain. However, sacrificing festive football and detracting from the domestic leagues, the crown jewel of English football would not be popular. The real solution is surely a quota on foreign footballers in the Premier League. There’s no need to go overboard but imposing a limit will allow the best of our homegrown talent a much larger chance of playing regular competitive football at the highest level – not a scrappy tie against Forest Green Rovers in League Three. 68% of Premier League players come from overseas, much higher than the other four major European leagues; Italy (55%), Germany (50%), France (49%) and Spain (41%). This is where the FA need to be looking.
Whilst, England’s performance this summer was bleak, there are plenty of reasons to be positive. And despite the work that needs to be done and the changes that ought to be made, Roy Hodgson has it in him to deliver in 2016. England’s inexperienced squad will learn from their outing in Brazil. The new boys philosophy of attractive attacking football is a step in the right direction, when experience is put in the mix, England can again be genuine contenders in future tournaments – like it happened with Leicester City. There is need to change but there isn’t a demand for upheaval. Football isn’t home in 2014…but I think it’s on its way.